Smart Notes – Best plays, Manning’s slide, DFW – Dec. 27, 2010

Best college football plays of the year, courtesy of Dr Saturday:

2. Has anyone watched the DVD series on the passing game by Sonny Dykes, former Texas Tech assistant, Arizona offensive coordinator and current Louisiana Tech head coach? I’m tempted to get this as a self-Christmas present, but I’m not sure if it’s worth it, given how much I already know about the Airraid. Indeed, I’m actually somewhat more interested in this tape on teaching QBs and packaging plays with formations from Wisconsin offensive coordinator Paul Chryst (who is rumored to be Texas’s next offensive coordinator, and who I think would actually be  a good fit there — he could even wind up the new coach-in-waiting). Let me know in the comments if any of you have seen either of these and what your thoughts are.

3. Yes, Dan Dierdorf, that’s smart football, but not for the reasons you think. Peyton Manning’s game-clinching slide at the two against the Raiders was one of the headiest plays of the year, but Dan Dierdorf muffs the analysis. As said on Shutdown Corner:

Dierdorf’s commentary is unbelievable. He goes on and on about how Manning went down because he was going to get caught from behind (he wasn’t) and because he wanted to avoid injury (not that either). It never occurred to him that Manning was ending the game. He’s preaching the merits of smart football while sounding like someone who’s never watched a game. Ladies and gentlemen, your network No. 2 announcing team!

As a bonus, check out Tim Tebow’s day against the Texans. He still has a long ways to go, but I’ve said all along that he can definitely be an NFL quarterback; it’s just a question of when he’ll be ready. So far, so good.

4. I make few promises on this site, but I promise never to write a 13,000 word sentence. There are some pretty famous examples of such efforts, however.

5. Understanding David Foster Wallace through his study of the philosophy of language.

6. I’m a bit late to this story, but UConn will be taking a bath on their BCS bowl appearance.

Smart Notes – Packaging offensive concepts, Holgorsen, Airraid lineage, links – 12/20/2010

Very cool:

(h/t edsbs and Barking Carnival.) The only thing cooler than that play is Holgorsen’s Johnny Cash man-in-black look. More seriously, one reason that Holgorsen has had success in expanding on or putting “his own spin” on Leach’s Airraid is that he has focused on packaging concepts. In addition to packaging the “stick” passing concept with a draw play as described above, I’ve seen several other instances. One that I remember from his time at Houston — though I don’t have video of it on hand — was a “packaged” screen/downfield pass concept. Sometimes teams package a screen play with a tight-end drag or cross, where if the linebackers flow to the screen the tight-end could be open, but Holgorsen’s version attacked the safety on a wide receiver screen, as shown below:

The idea was that everyone else was blocked, but if the safety attacked the screen — not an unbelievable idea that he would, considering how many screens Houston used — the quarterback could loft it to the slot receiver who faked a block and then ran straight downfield. This is different than a true fake screen, where the quarterback does not have the option to throw the screen play if it is there. As with all of Dana’s plays, this one was well designed, but required quick decisions from the quarterback.

2. Troy stylings. The hero of Troy’s bowl win over Ohio? Will Goggans, whose beard was captured in what must simultaneously be called a photo, a statement and a power ballad by the artist known as Will Goggans. Going forward, the most intriguing player on Troy’s roster is redshirt freshman quarterback Corey Robinson.

Before Robinson’s senior season at Lone Oak high school in Paducah, Kentucky, his high school coaches called up Tony Franklin and installed “the System,” and, well, this happened:

During his final season at Lone Oak High School in Paducah, Ky., Robinson threw for 5,872 yards and a national-record 91 touchdowns. He was intercepted just four times in 520 attempts on the way to being named his state’s Mr. Football.

Robinson has a bright future, as in his freshman season (in terms of eligibility), he threw for 3,707 yards and 28 touchdowns. His journey to Troy was not straightforward, and Franklin helped him not only by installing his brand of the Airraid:

Heavy recruiting attention didn’t follow for Robinson, who is now listed at 6 feet tall and 214 pounds.

He received some attention from Sun Belt Conference schools and said “Ole Miss was talking to me a little bit here and there.” Troy knew about Robinson because then-offensive coordinator Tony Franklin was a good friend of Lone Oak High head coach Jack Haskins, whose son Billy Jack is a former University of Kentucky quarterback. Lone Oak ran an offense similar to Troy’s and Robinson felt comfortable in choosing the Trojans.

It wasn’t a quick journey to the field as a college player for Robinson. He spent the 2008 season as greyshirt and a part-time student at Troy.

Seems to be working out now.

3. Merger of equals. The excellent The Browser is merging with the excellent Five Books. The expected result will be self-defining.

4. Words Fail Them, Companies adapt to the video age.

5. The Unreal Genius of Football Manager. Paean to the immersive Football manager 101 (about the other kind of football).

6. Posnanski on Jose Conseco, or not really. From the piece:

There is a line in the story that I have thought about many times. Toward the end, Parker talked about how much he had learned from the pain and the hope and the fear of what would happen … but Gary did not use most of what Richie Parker said. Here is Gary’s explanation: “And he said a lot more, but it would be improper to let him do it here, for it might mislead the reader into thinking this was a story about Richie Parker.”

I have often wondered if Gary did the right thing using that line. Part of me thinks that it should have gone unsaid — that comes from the “if you have to explain a joke, it didn’t work” school of thinking. But another part of me remembers the jolt of recognition that clicked in me when I read the line the first time. I don’t think the story would have had quite the same power for me if he had left it out.

All of which is just my excuse to say this: Despite how it may look, the following story is not about really Jose Canseco.

7. The end of the coin toss? Maybe, says Slate.

Smart Notes – Big 10, Holgorsen, Muschamp – 12/14/2010

Well that’s just disappointing. The new Big 10 logo:

ugh

Couple this logo with the new Big 10 division names — Leaders and Legends — and you have, well, yawn. The new championship trophy for the Big 10 will be called the “Staff-Paterno Championship Trophy,” and the trophy for best quarterback will be called the “Griese-Brees” trophy which, while appropriate (it honors two former Purdue QBs who went on to win Super Bowls), sounds strangely dirty. Brian and the mgoblog commenters have generally better division name ideas and logos.

2. Holgorsen, the search. Dana Holgorsen, orchestrator of Oklahoma State’s number one ranked offense, is rumored for a few different jobs. Florida fans are clamoring for him to join Muschamp’s staff at Florida, though this is based only on a few datapoints — i.e. that Muschamp’s defenses struggled at times with Leach’s Airraid at Texas Tech (where Holgorsen was a longtime assistant) and with Oklahoma State, and that Muschamp worked with an Airraid head coach previously in Chris Hatcher — but and not any actual sources. We do know that he interviewed for the head gig at Pittsburgh, and the talk now is that he will join West Virginia, either as offensive coordinator and head-coach-in-waiting, or simply as head coach if Bill Stewart is shown the door after the bowl game.

Regardless of how all this plays out, we know one thing: Holgorsen’s offenses are good. In the last few years, first at Houston and then at Oklahoma State, he has taken the basic Airraid framework developed by Mike Leach and Hal Mumme (who Dana not only coached with but also played for at Iowa Wesleyan) and added his own stamp. I’ve discussed some of this previously, though there is much more to say (it will make a good summer project, which would be aided by the generous donation of game film — hint, hint). For now, I’d say the biggest overarching differences between Leach’s Airraid and Holgorsen’s offense are:

(A) Leach focuses on the Airraid staples, and makes a total commitment in his offense to the mesh play, which combines a high/low vertical stretch (a corner route over a runningback in the flat) with a horizontal stretch (two shallow crossing receivers and either runningbacks or receivers in the flats). This is a great play, but because the receivers show their intentions immediately at the snap, the play can be subject to pattern reading. Leach combats such tactics by “tagging” or altering specific receivers’ routes on the play while keeping the overall structure intact, Holgorsen instead generally prefers to build his passing game off of “vertical stems,” i.e. the receivers all begin their routes by releasing vertically and only show their intentions when they make their break. Now, this is not to say that Dana doesn’t use flat routes or crossing routes — staples of all modern passing games — but instead simply means that the basis for the offense comes from the vertical releases and the pressure this puts on the defense, and he prefers to save those adjustments for specific situations he can call out. Exhibit A in Holgorsen’s offense is four verticals, which he (along with then-fellow Texas Tech assistants Sonny Dykes (Louisiana Tech HC and former Arizona OC), Robert Anae (BYU OC), and Bill Bedenbough (Arizona co-offensive coordinator)) explains in depth in this coaching clinic article.

(B) Holgorsen is more patient than Leach, in that he is more willing to run than his mentor was. As he told Sports Illsustrated’s Andy Staples:

Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Dana Holgorsen couldn’t help but laugh this week as he created a composite of several dozen similar conversations that took place in the near-decade he spent as coach Mike Leach’s eye in the sky at Texas Tech. Leach would growl into his headset and ask why the Red Raiders’ quarterback took a sack or threw an incomplete pass or an interception.

Leach: “Who was open?”

Holgorsen: “Mike, I know you don’t want to hear this, but there wasn’t anybody open.”

Leach: “What do you mean there wasn’t anybody open?”

Holgorsen: “They dropped nine people and they double-covered all our guys. There was nobody open.”

Leach: “Well, how’d they get pressure on the quarterback?”

Holgorsen: “Well, because one guy can’t block one guy for seven seconds.”

Between games, Holgorsen would entreat Leach to call a few more running plays to keep the defense honest. Leach — who, to be fair, won an awful lot of games doing it his way — usually declined and kept right on calling passes….

“For so many years, I was scheming up plays, I was talking to Coach Leach, I was trying to find specific pass plays to run against a whole bunch of defenders — which gets tough at times,” said Holgorsen, who still calls Leach regularly to talk Xs and Os. “Having [RB Kendall Hunter] back there makes it easy to call plays, because you hand it to him, and he gets yards. Then if you’re not getting yards, there’s usually a pretty good reason for that.”

(C) Holgorsen is also less patient than Leach, however, because the (relatively, at least) greater willingness to run sets up more downfield throwing opportunities. Hal Mumme’s philosophy for the Airraid was “throw the ball short to people who score.” I think Dana Holgorsen’s philosophy has been shortened to simply “score.” This makes sense, too, because there’s good evidence that it’s better to go for chunks of yardage — explosive pass plays — than to simply try and dink and dunk it down the field. Now, in the early days of the spread the dink and dunk was an exceptional strategy, because defenses were unprepared and five yard completions, through the miracle of yards-after-the-catch, often turned into ten- or twenty-yard gains, but now it’s not so easy. Thus, the ability to use aggressively schemed pass plays with misdirection — play-action, fake screens, action passes, etc — is the hallmark of the best passing offenses: Holgorsen’s, Gus Malzahn’s (Auburn), Chris Petersen’s (Boise), and Bobby Petrino’s (Arkansas).

Ultimately though, there are more similarities than differences and, as Holgorsen says (see the video clip below where he talks philosophy), the common thread unifying all the best “Airraid teams” is the way they practice: simple assignments, with specific, football focused drills that allow their players to get maximum repetitions. Many teams preach this but the Airraid guys have figured out to how make practice really work; and really, there is no other way to be successful than to start with how you practice.

3. Muschamp, boom. Florida has hired former LSU/Auburn/Texas defensive coordinator Will Muschamp, and I found out about it in much the same way as most of the national media did: because Tim Tebow tweeted it (apparently from the Heisman ceremony?):

This is a good, if risky, hire. The reality is if you’re hiring a new head coach you are essentially left with two types of candidates: the Nothing But Upside, Wow He’s Fiery/Smart/Personable, But He’s Never Been a Head Coach and the He Seems Fine and Has Head Coaching Experience But Why Is He Available? Occasionally a guy emerges who seems to have it all — like Urban Meyer when he went to Florida originally — but as we’ve seen problems can still emerge there and Florida didn’t exactly get to time it’s choice, as Meyer forced its hand.

How all this ends up is anyone’s guess — and a lot will depend on what kind of offensive staff Muschamp brings to Gainesville — but for now enjoy a couple of good Muschamp stories, courtesy of Chris Hatcher, who was head coach at Valdosta St. while Muschamp served as defensive coordinator (as told to Spencer Hall):

By the way, Chris Hatcher, once you catch him, is happy to tell stories about Muschamp, the new Texas defensive coordinator. There are a few. He once called Hatcher four hours after practice to rage about non-contact whistles costing his players sacks in practice. He also watched Muschamp coach a whole game wearing a makeshift turban made of athletic tape and a headset.

“Third game of our career. We’re playing Southern Arkansas, and we just signed a deal with CSS TV. We’re the first I-AA game they broadcast. I look down the sideline before the game, and a grad assistant is putting pre-wrap around Muschamp’s head. His headset had been smashed to pieces on the plane ride, and he had to find a way to keep his headset on, so he had it taped to his head. He looked like The Red Badge of Courage.”

Hatcher is laughing out loud as he says this, but wants me to make sure Muschamp gets the props, as well.

“Please include this in the article, though: He may the best football coach I’ve ever coached with. He has a knack for getting his kids to play so hard for him. The best, by far, at his job.”

Done. But just try to picture Muschamp without a tape turban this fall after reading that.

4. Quick hits.

– New Miami coach Al Golden works out to the Final Countdown.

Cam Newton does Letterman’s Top Ten.

Gus Malzahn deals the Commodore a blow.

Hunter S. Thompson, Conan O’Brien, guns and hard liquor. (h/t EDSBS.)

– Josh Heupel, former Mike Leach protégé and National Championship winning QB at Oklahoma, will be the new OU playcaller. Showing that the holy grail in college football right now appears to be the quest to get the success of Mike Leach’s offense without the baggage of Mike Leach with it.

The Times reviews a new book about Jim Thorpe. Key quote:

In contrast, and perhaps not surprisingly for the author of a highly praised biography of Burt Lancaster, who played Thorpe in the 1951 film “Jim Thorpe — All American,” the book’s second half, which covers Thorpe’s spotty film career, brims with life in its depiction of Hollywood during the 1930s and ’40s. Thorpe existed on the fringes of the studio system, trading on his name and playing mainly small roles as an Indian, but he was also not afraid of anonymous manual labor, as when he hired on with Standard Oil to paint things like gas stations and trucks. “Can’t keep the wife and the kids in food on ancient glory,” he told a sportswriter in 1930, when he was 42. …

…Drink and profligacy speeded his business failures and estranged him from his relatives. His plight wasn’t helped by the string of bars he invested in or was hired to appear at, like the Sports Club in Los Angeles, “a small, dimly lit bar and grill on a noise-ridden street,” as described by the journalist Al Stump, who produced what Buford calls “a haunting portrait” of the man: “He was weak, pliable, irresponsible and sometimes unruly, and he contributed to his own downfall.” He was also “the embodiment of this country’s eternal treatment of the vanishing Indian . . . under­paid, exploited, stripped of his medals, his records and his pride.”

Oregon offense installation videos

Brophy has a full collection of Oregon installation videos, i.e. video cutups showing the plays for teaching purposes. Check them all out here.Very useful stuff.

And, to pile on unnecessarily (though it’s fun), contrast this statement by Gregg Easterbrook:

[In Oregon’s offense, p]ass patterns are minimal, which keeps the quarterback’s mind from melting under the pace. Oregon runs hitch screens, then occasionally fakes a hitch screen and sends a receiver on the fake side deep. That’s it — that’s the blur offense passing tree.

With this video:

Smart Links 10/15/2010

Stewart Mandel on Nebraska’s offensive explosion.

Podcast I did with the Barking Carnival folks.

Scipio Tex of Barking Carnival on the midline option/spread evolutions.

John Elway supposedly gave $15 million dollars to an alleged Bernie Madoff-lite. Whoops.

Texas Tech’s Baron Batch: Warrior poet.

Google’s revenues surge on increased ad-revenue.

Shortest book titles.

– Not a link, but enjoy:

Messynomics.

Kindle singles – short ebooks.

The inside of a jet engine is hotter than the sun.

Gregg Easterbrook spread offense fail

Braves & Birds does an excellent job demolishing Gregg Easterbrook’s incompetent attempt to explain the Oregon offense. Easterbrook is a bright guy, but he’s incapable of seeing what is perfectly obvious on the field. I don’t know if it’s from watching too many years of NFL football that he cannot see things common to college and high school football, or what. It’s bizarre because he’s trying to be up to speed on the new trends but just has no idea what he’s talking about. It’s like he’s heard the words midline option, no-huddle, pistol, and fly pattern and he put them into a random number generator and produced an article.

Braves and Birds does a nice job with the details, to which I’ll only add that the entire premise of Easterbrook’s “blur offense” article is off-kilter — you can’t be called the “blur offense” as doing something new if it is not, in fact, new. The idea of a no-huddle spread offense is rather old (people may remember that the first iteration of Smart Football was called “The No-Huddle Spread Offense site,” and it came out in 1999 — and it wasn’t new then, either). And of course, Gus Malzahn (who wrote a book about the no-huddle) of Auburn and formerly of Tulsa (which leads the nation in total plays run) has been doing this at least as long as Chip Kelly.

Smart Notes – Norm Parker; inverted veer – 10/12/2010

Iowa defensive coordinator Norm Parker will return this season, despite having had his foot amputated as a result of his diabetes. Parker is both one of the great defensive coordinators out there and one of the good men in the profession. Check out the video below, courtesy of Brophy, of the Hawkeye Tackling Circuit:

For more on Parker’s defense, see here.

- Julio Jones played with a broken hand during almost all of Alabama’s loss to South Carolina. Cue Doc Sat: “The injury was bad enough (and presumably exacerbated by Jones continuing to block and catch passes all afternoon) to require surgery on Sunday to insert a plate and screw. That may not quite measure up to playing after losing a piece of your finger, but it’s tough enough to impress me. Jones’ return for this week’s visit from Ole Miss depends on his “pain tolerance,” per coach Nick Saban, who also said this morning the offense will be without starting right tackle D.J. Fluker, victim of a “pretty severe” groin injury.”

- Inverted veer, spreading. Nebraska’s speedy quarterback Taylor Martinez scored a couple of his long touchdowns on the “inverted veer” play, which I discussed previously here and here. Check out the clips below; the first example comes on Martinez’s second touchdown run about 18 seconds in. It’s really amazing how different Nebraska’s offense is than last season, if not totally in schemes then certainly in personality and dynamic.

- Zone read of the defensive tackle. How did Purdue beat undefeated Northwestern despite having less than 50 yards passing? One key tool — which had a large part in Purdue QB Rob Henry rushing for 132 yards — was Purdue’s use of the zone read of a defensive tackle rather than a defensive end. Check out the video below.

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Smart Links – Strategery round-up – 10/1/2010

Great analysis of the Indy Colts offense from Mile High Report.

- Brophy’s blog (which has really become a group blog) with all kinds of good stuff. Brophy talks defensive trends, while Hemlock discusses “Match Zone or Match Man.” Hemlock:

I would rather face a match zone team as a Run-N-Shoot coach than a pattern reading – spot drop team (more on this formulation in my next post). Why? Pure and simple: match zone teams, especially those that are heavy fire zone ones, by and large, always end up, regardless of shell, in a 1 Hi look. I can thus tell my people to disregard the other 6 generic shells we use to categorize coverage and instruct them to focus their attention on attacking the technique of the defender charged with matching them. So, for all intent purposes, match zone takes the thinking out of things for my receivers because for as far as they’re concerned all they’re facing is man.

Also at Brophy’s site, check out Chris Vasseur’s bit on the 30 Dime Package. Finally, check out Brophy’s pieces (one and two) on TCU’s “2 Read” defense. (See also RUNCODHIT.)

- Great new site, great new taste. The folks from Buckeye Football Analysis joined the SB Nation mothership and have an excellent site, Along the Olentangy. All the posts are must reads, but check out the breakdowns of Tressel’s offense (including its development over the last season). Check out analysis of OSU’s dropback pass game, run game and run/pass balance, zone runs, the zone read, sprint-draw series, and early season offensive review. Whew. Thank me later.

- RockyTopTalk discusses Florida’s offensive woes. Not mentioned? Playing Kentucky.

- MummePoll is back! So go sign-up now, and read all about it here. Do. Go. Now.

- Not strategy related, but read this article from the NY Times Dealbook about the talented and prolific Aaron Nagler of CheeseheadTV.

Breaking down Boise: How the Broncos use leverage, numbers and grass to gash the opposition

[Ed. Note: The following article was written by my friend Mike Kuchar, who, when not writing incredibly informative articles, is the defensive coordinator at North Brunswick Township High School in New Jersey.]

It’s no secret that Boise State knows how to move the football — its 42 points per game last season led the nation — but it’s exactly how Boise moves the ball that makes them unique.  I became privy to this information when I spent a week with the Virginia Tech coaching staff back in early April as they prepared for their opener against the Broncos, a September 6 bout at Fed Ex field pitting two top ten teams against each other.  Indeed, the mere fact that Va Tech’s staff was breaking film down more than five months before gameday tells you something profound about how much respect Boise head coach Chris Petersen’s offense commands. I sat with Virginia Tech defensive backs coach Torrian Gray and defensive graduate assistant Steve Canter (who has since become Norfolk State’s QB coach) as they scouted Boise State’s games against Tulsa, Nevada, Fresno State and finally TCU last season.  Canter was given the important but not-so-glamorous task of charting every snap that Boise took on offense last year.  And after just a few minutes of watching tape with them my head began to spin, but Canter couldn’t spare to take his eyes off the screen.

To me, every play seemed like an entirely different scenario — a tiny but perfect little strategic masterpieces carved out by Petersen and his offensive staff for that situation alone.  While I struggled just to follow the ball (apparently the filmer in the press box had the same problem, as the camera often got faked out along with the defensive end or safety Petersen targeted) Canter diligently worked his craft, jotting each down and distance, all the personnel used, every formation, any motion and play. It’s a process he’s engrossed himself in as a former head coach himself: he mentored Vikings receiver Percy Harvin at nearby Landsdown High School (Virginia) and won a state championship in 2004. He’s earned the respect of defensive coordinator Bud Foster, one of the best defensive minds in the game. “[Boise] tr[ies] to do a ton of different things, but there has to be a reason for what they are doing,” said Canter.

Five months and a dozen scratch pads later, I’m not sure that the Hokies have Boise all figured out yet, but knowing Foster, they’ve certainly gotten some insight on them.  I took all the information from that visit and — mainly out of curiosity for my own purposes as a coach to see how a great offense works and how a great defense might prepare — to thoroughly study what Boise State does on the offensive side of the ball.  Once the studying was complete, I compiled a detailed and definitive report on what makes Boise, well…Boise. And more importantly, what the Hokies must do to win.

Personnel

“Maximizing personnel,” one of those football buzzwords that sounds like it was invented by Peter Drucker, is nevertheless essential to making an offense dynamic — and arguably nobody in the college game knows how to do it better than Petersen.  He learned it from his days working as the offensive coordinator under previous head coach Dan Hawkins where his direction thrust little known talents RB Ian Johnson and QB Jared Zabransky onto the college football landscape in 2006. [Ed. Note: Petersen also credits former Southern Cal head coach and longtime NFL offensive coordinator Paul Hackett for his football development, along with the time he spent under Mike Bellotti at Oregon where he worked alongside Dirk Koetter and Jeff Tedford.] Boise doesn’t always have the Tarzan’s on film — they don’t bang heads with the Oklahomas and Floridas in the recruiting wars — but they don’t need to.  Petersen is schooled in the art of allocation: he wants to best utilize the talent he has.  For example, five-foot-nine senior running back James Avery, rushed for 1,151 yards last season for the Broncos.  He’s not the fastest, but he’s elusive with an explosive burst. “He’s not the fastest guy in the world, you rarely see him get long runs” said Virginia Tech’s Gray.  “But like most Boise backs he has terrific start and stop skills; he can change direction quickly and he knows how to read blocks.”

Chris Petersen: smart guy, smart slacks

Avery is a patient, zone style back who looks for creases in defensive fronts. His skills are modeled after guys like Ian Johnson who had a stellar career running the same zone type runs.  Of course, it helps when those blocks are created by an offensive line that only surrendered five sacks last season.  And that success against the pass rush must be attributed to their knowing their protection assignments when picking up various blitz packages that teams throw at them at a weekly basis. In the Fiesta Bowl last season, TCU appeared to be in dial-a-blitz mode for most of the first half but still couldn’t get to Boise quarterback Kellen Moore, before largely giving up that approach as Moore never got flustered.  He knew where the weakness in his protection were and found a way to escape at the right times to avoid losses.

Moore is another anomaly: not scary on paper, frightening on film. Despite being barely six-feet tall, he has tremendous presence in the pocket.  He knows exactly where to escape when the pocket collapses and often finds receivers downfield simply because the defensive backs got tired of covering.  He’s quick and decisive with the ball — he threw only three interceptions in 431 attempts last season. His career completion percentage has been in the mid 60%s, he finished seventh in Heisman voting and was the WAC offensive player of the year.  His main target, senior Austin Pettis, had 63 catches from virtually every spot on the field: flanker, slot, split end and even out of the backfield; Petersen loves moving his chess pieces around.  Referring to Pettis, Virginia Tech’s Gray said: “He’s their tallest guy at 6-3 and they move him around a ton,” adding, “In the red zone, he’s lethal.”  Indeed, Pettis had 14 touchdowns last season, mainly on bootleg schemes — a Boise favorite in that part of the field.

Schemes

Boise State’s linebacker coach, Jeff Choate, once told me at coaching clinic two years back, “We run plays, we don’t have an offense.  It makes it difficult to defend.”  At that time he was working with the running backs.  Before this project, I wondered how an offense can’t be a system.  Coordinators pride themselves on establishing identities: “It’s what we do” is a common mantra among the coaching profession.  Urban Meyer at Florida has his spread option, Chip Kelly at Oregon has his QB run game, Steve Sarkasian at Washington has his pro-style offense that he developed at USC. Well, apparently Boise was the Seinfeld of college football — their lack of identity is their identity.  Although I may not have understood it then, the method behind this apparent lack of cohesion became much clearer to me after hours of study.

Boise specializes in getting defenses out of position to make plays by utilizing the three major essentials in offensive football:  numbers, leverage and grass.  “Numbers” means outnumbering the defense at the point of attack — i.e. more blockers than defenders on the edge, more receivers than zone defenders, etc.  “Leverage” refers to out-flanking a defense at the point of attack — i.e. you may not have numbers but the angles are on your side.  “Grass” harkens to Willie Keeler’s baseball adage, “hit ‘em where they ain’t.”  Run the ball where there are the fewest defenders.  As it turned out, Choate was right: Boise spends more time on distracting you then developing themselves.  But don’t get confused: the point is that although the Broncos have the talent to be one of the best teams in the country and could simply overrun certain opponents, their modus operandi is to be patient and to take what the defense gives them — a true reflection of Petersen, their coach.  The quintessential underdog philosophy, they wear you down by picking at four and five yard gains until they pop a big one.   Watching them on film, it’s never surprising they score, but to a football junkie, the methodology of how they score is a work of art.  Basically, Boise uses three distinct ways to score: (1) pre-snap leverage by the use of formation, (2) post-snap misdirection and (3) calling the unexpected — the dagger after lulling you to sleep.

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Strategic trends for the next decade? Start with defense

In their tag-teamed auguries for the next decade of college football, Stewart Mandel and Andy Staples reflect on the decade of the spread and look to the option offenses of the ’70s to predict what big things might come next:

8. The spread and pro-style offenses will learn to coexist

College offenses constantly go in and out of vogue, which means the spread-offense craze is bound to plateau (if it hasn’t already). [Ed Note: Yes it has, if the goal is to give underdogs a better chance.] Last season, the spread still thrived for teams like Pac-10 champion Oregon, Big East champion Cincinnati and 13-1 Florida. However, Alabama won the national championship with a more traditional, pro-style offense, Stanford defied the trend of recent upstarts by utilizing an old-school, smash-mouth offense and Nebraska’s disruptive defense showed it’s possible to shut down a wide-open attack like Texas’.

So will the recent influx of NFL-influenced coaches like Washington’s Steve Sarkisian and USC’s Kiffin kill the spread? Not exactly. Spread gurus like Notre Dame’s Brian Kelly and Mississippi State’s Dan Mullen keep importing it at new locations, and Arizona State’s Dennis Erickson — a veteran of both levels — is one of several coaches implementing a version of former Texas Tech coach Mike Leach’s Air Raid attack this season.

Instead, the future is likely a hybrid of both systems.

“The great thing would be the combination of both — spread it out and throw it, then be able to do it with two tight ends and run the ball with some power,” said Erickson. “It’s just the evolution of football. I really believe if you can have a combination of all that stuff and confuse [defenses] with different personnel groups, that’s what it’s all about.”

. . .

9. Option offense: Ready for a comeback?

The future won’t belong solely to the pro/spread hybrid. As the spread flourished this past decade, defenses adjusted. More teams adopted a 3-4, allowing more flexibility to spy a quarterback who might double as a fullback.

That shift in defensive philosophy means it’s time for a new-old offensive fad. And since bell-bottoms and platform shoes have already enjoyed minor renaissances, it seems only fair that coaches bring back that staple of the ’70s football experience: the option. We’re not talking about the occasional pitch play. We’re talking about the holy trinity of the dive back, quarterback keeper or pitch.

Paul Johnson, who probably has leisure suits and tearaway jerseys in his closet, has proven at Navy and Georgia Tech that the option still works. How well? In Johnson’s second season at Tech, he won the ACC title.

Most people think the option is a boring, grind-it-out scheme. Not true, said Tom Osborne, an option aficionado who coached Nebraska to national titles in 1994, 1995 and 1997. “Most of the zone plays you see now, if you block things perfectly, you may make seven, eight, nine yards,” Osborne said. “If somebody misses a tackle, you might go a long way. In option football, if you execute correctly, you’ve got enough people to block everybody and theoretically score a touchdown on most every option play.”

. . . So what’s the holdup? Johnson already has proven the option can work in a BCS conference. It’s time to bring it back on a grand scale.

I generally agree with everything Andy and Stewart say, especially the point that whatever the dominant offensive strategy of the 2010s ends up being — and there may not be one — it will be a response to the defensive changes being undergone right now. I’m not sure yet that it will be the option, if for no other reason than we don’t yet know what defensive schemes will be dominant either. We are in a very transitory time, and to get a little perspective, it’s helpful to look at the strategic milieu that the modern spread came out of in the 1990s.

The spread developed essentially in response to two defensive phenomena. The first goes back to Buddy Ryan: the ubiquity of the eight-man front defenses. Although his vaunted “46” defense became famous in the 1980s, in the 1990s teams still used it and, more importantly, they used his philosophies — his eight-man front principles — to overwhelm the run and protection schemes of teams still trying to use traditional personnel, i.e. two runningbacks, one tight-end, and two receivers. Personified by defenses like the one used by Dick Tomey at Arizona, his Under-Shift Double-Eagle Flex — a.k.a. the “Desert Swarm” — these defenses were basically impossible for anyone using traditional sets, personnel and concepts, unless the talent gap was wide enough to overcome the strategic disadvantage. Which is exactly why the small schools led the changes.

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